NBC's Up All Night premiered last night, and I, for one, was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. But then again, given that the show was produced by SNL's Lorne Michaels and boasts a cast that includes Maya Rudolph, Christina Applegate, and Will Arnett, I was pretty much sold before watching. Let's break down how the show succeeded — and failed — so I can wrap my childless head around enthusiastically loving a sitcom that's about parenting and babies. (A really really cute baby, at that.)
Why It Works
1. Christina Applegate as Reagan, the Working Mom
The show is set during the time when Applegate's character is returning to work after her maternity leave, which is a new angle that I've not seen a television show work with before. Her boss is crazy (but fun); Reagan seems to hold the entire television show and company together. She's doing the work-life balance, and in the clip at left you'll see how that works out for her. Her character is relatable and more importantly, likable.
2. Will Arnett as Chris, the Dad
Truth be told, I love Will Arnett in everything he does. After his wonderful turn as Arrested Development's Gob Bluth, he's had a bit of trouble breaking out of that character. (Like in last year's failed Fox sitcom, Running Wilde, in which he essentially played the Gob 2.0.) So it's refreshing to see Arnett succeed in a role where he plays a regular guy — and as stay-at-home father, no less! He has a frantic scene where he calls Reagan at work while he's at the grocery store and terrified of an old lady who wants to coo at his baby. What's not to love about an overly-protective Dad? (So long as he's not yours.)
3. Maya Rudolph as Ava, the Talk Show Host
Yes, Rudolph's character is basically a cross between her Oprah and Whitney Houston impressions on Saturday Night Live, but since when is that a bad thing? Ava is a self-absorbed talk show host with a daily show that's taken a fall during Regan's maternity leave. She's kind of crazy, intimidating, pronounces the word insane as "in-sahn," and randomly breaks out into song throughout the episode. Her talk show, which currently seems to take a lot from Ellen Degeneres' daily show, costars Nick Cannon as her sidekick, and she uses "woop woop!" as her signature audience call.
Why It Doesn't
Are we really supposed to believe this couple is a bunch of party animals? I'd like to think that Arnett and Applegate are past the age of parrying "up all night," but fine, if for nothing else than the show's clever title, we'll play along. I also felt sort of cheated that we didn't get to see anything between the scene where they find out they are pregnant and when it's time for Applegate's character to return to work 4 months later. Are the true struggles of having a newborn too harsh and "not funny enough" to make light of in a sitcom?
That said, it's hard to cram that much backstory and authenticity into a 22-minute pilot episode, so for what it was, I'd give it two enthusiastic thumbs up.